WASHTENAW COUNTY, MI – The elected clerk of Scio Township will continue her legal battle against the rest of the township board, even after suffering a defeat in Washtenaw County court.
On Monday, Oct. 17, Clerk Jessica Flintoft appealed an order dismissing a lawsuit she filed alleging that her colleagues have illegally limited her authority under Michigan law, stonewalling her efforts to remedy what she says is a critically understaffed township financial team.
After a hearing on Sept. 21, Washtenaw County Trial Court Judge Timothy Connors sided with the township board, saying he saw no legal basis to vacate two township resolutions Flintoft argues prevents her from doing her job, or grant other relief the clerk requested.
Read more: ‘None of my business’: Judge dismisses Scio Township clerk’s lawsuit against board
Flintoft has now brought the case before the Michigan Court of Appeals, where it is currently pending.
“The decision to appeal was easy on principle, notwithstanding the financial hardship it puts on me,” she said in a statement, adding the trial court in its decision had misinterpreted a township clerk‘s “custody” of township records under Michigan law, central to her legal arguments.
“The decision implicates constitutional, statutory and preexisting case law and, perhaps most importantly, implicates important separation of powers safeguards,” she said. “As it stands, the circuit court’s decision permits a township employee under the direction of the board to share custody of the books, records, and papers of the township and to either directly manipulate or assign authority to others to manipulate the township’s journals and ledgers without knowledge or input by the clerk, Contrary to law.”
Scio Township Supervisor Will Hathaway, who has clashed with Flintoft in public meetings over the issues raised her lawsuit, said he expected township attorneys would continue to defend the township board’s position.
“I think it’s unfortunate that the clerk views this as an appropriate way for her to disagree with the vote of the board of trustees, but she seems determined to do so,” Hathaway said.
Michael Homier, the attorney representing the township board in the case, agreed. “It’s unfortunate. It’s a waste of taxpayer money, but the township doesn’t have a choice, it’s not like we can just default,” he said.
Homier said he expected each side will file briefs with the Court of Appeals, adding the appeal could take between a year and 14 months to be adjudicated.
Flintoft first filed the suit on April 11, lodging a legal plea for the court to intervene after the township board voted to cancel a contract for financial staffing she and township Treasurer Donna Palmer authorized on an emergency basis.
Connors denied Flintoft’s request that he issue a temporary restraining order against the rest of the township board on April 21, saying it would be inappropriate to “micromanage” the workings of an elected township body.
In an amended complaint filed May 19Flintoft outlined “a history of wrongful action” she alleged the board had taken to restrict her authority, requesting two township resolutions setting job descriptions for the township supervisor and administrator be vacated.
The actions amounted to “usurping duties” that belong by law with the clerk, who must keep custody of township records, Flintoft’s attorney Mark Magyar argued in court, detailing events following the hiring of interim township administrator James Merte in May that caused in Flintoft losing certain administrative privileges to the township’s record-keeping software.
During the September hearing Homier in turn framed the clerk’s lawsuit as an attempt to settle a political score, claiming the issues raised amounted to a “policy dispute” best decided at the ballot box during the next election, not by the court.
“(Flintoft) is attempting to wrest control of the township’s finances and staffing because she disagrees with the township board’s policy decisions,” the attorney wrote in a legal filing disputing the clerk’s claims.
Connors, in ruling against Flintoft, seemed persuaded by that argument, again declining to interfere in the workings of the township government.
The clerk remained steady in the aftermath of the legal setback, promising the appeal.
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